IOWA CITY –
Albert Young walked out of the locker room, cell phone to ear. He made a quick spin move and wanted to know if one of his eyes was bigger than the other.
He took a face plant on his last carry, going helmet first into the Kinnick Stadium turf under the weight of three Michigan State tacklers. He was stopped 1 yard short of the end zone and a lead in the second overtime.
One of his eyes was slightly bigger than the other.
One of his eyes could’ve popped out, and Young probably wouldn’t have felt a thing Saturday afternoon.
Young rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the Hawkeyes’ 34-27 double-overtime victory over Michigan State before a crowd of 70,585.
On fourth-and-13, convert or shove off for East Lansing, walk-on cornerback Drew Gardner, a third-stringer playing only because of two injuries, tackled Michigan State’s Devin Thomas short of the first down.
Fans stormed the field. Players got the customary Kinnick conga line of backslaps. ESPN’s postgame interviews were plundered.
“How does it look?” Young said, opening his eyes wide. “Is one bigger than the other?”
A slightly swollen left eye was the only blemish that stuck on the Hawkeyes (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten), who were an eyesore for two quarters Saturday.
In the first half, the Michigan State Spartans (5-4, 1-4) were preparing their victory speech. At the end of the first quarter, MSU had 173 yards of offense. The Hawkeyes had minus-1. MSU had 24 plays to six for Iowa. MSU quarterback Brian Hoyer had eight completions, more than Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen would have the entire game.
But the Spartans had only a 7-0 lead. Key stat, the scoreboard.
Going into halftime, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz roasted referee Dave Witvoet, arguing for an illegal-block-in-the-back penalty that wasn’t called. It wasn’t a warm-up for a halftime tongue-lashing directed toward his team, which trailed 17-3 at half.
No yelling, Ferentz claimed. No broken clipboards. No steam shooting out of his ears.
“You guys would be disappointed,” he said. “The paint didn’t come off the walls. I just said, `Gosh, gee, fellas.’-”
Gosh. Gee. Wow.
This game went through an Extreme Makeover, football edition, in the second half.
An ugly Iowa turned to its handsome leading man, who, with a little ice, will be the same pretty face today as he was Saturday.
A quick three-and-out and a 15-yard late-hit penalty gave the Hawkeyes first down at MSU’s 30. Young cruised around right tackle, ran behind a brilliant block by wideout James Cleveland and scored from 26 yards, pulling Iowa within 17-10 with 10:07 left in the third quarter.
The next drive was this: pass to Cleveland for 10, Young for 5, Young for 6, Young for 5, Young for 15, Jevon Pugh for 2, Young for 29 and then Young for 3 and a 17-17 tie with 3:57 left.
Young rushed six times for 63 yards. Starting with Christensen and an offensive line that treats pass blocking like square dancing, the Hawkeyes were officially on Young’s back. He rushed 26 times for 143 yards in the second half.
“You can’t really describe it, he just played his butt off,” Christensen said. “He put us on his back today. He’s our leader. He’s obviously the most experienced guy and it showed out there today.”
After the first half that Christensen and the passing game put up, Iowa had nowhere to go but the ground game. And with senior running back Damian Sims sidelined with a sprained foot, Iowa had nowhere to go but Young.
“Yeah, and I think that’s not asking too much out of the seniors,” said Young, who broke 100 yards for the first time since going for 144 in the season opener.
“They pretty much told (fullback) Tommy (Busch) and myself we’re going to pound it at them. We definitely embraced that. The line set the tempo.”
Michigan State won this game everywhere but the scoreboard.
The Spartans ran 96 plays to 59 for Iowa. The Spartans had 468 yards of offense to Iowa’s 283. MSU had a nearly 13-minute edge in time of possession (36:26 to 23:34).
All of that is statistical confetti today.
“They (the Hawkeyes) have toughness, they have pride,” MSU Coach Mark Dantonio said. “Their players just kept hanging around. And if you hang around, keep fighting, good
things are going to happen. And that’s what happened to Iowa.”
The Spartans tied the game at 20-20 with Brett Swenson’s field goal with four seconds left in the game. They took a 27-20 lead on their first possession in overtime, with Jehuu Caulcrick crashing in from 3 yards.
Christensen then blew off one of the most forgettable days an Iowa quarterback has ever had and lasered a 23-yard TD pass to freshman receiver Paul Chaney. It was second-and-20 and it was out of nowhere.
“We never lose confidence,” said Christensen, who finished 5 of 15 for 53 yards and one TD. “It’s hard to do, once in a while. Human nature is to get down on yourself and get down on the offense and things.”
Iowa’s defense rotated personnel like a hockey team changes lines.
The Hawkeyes set up MSU’s fourth-and-13 after backup defensive end Adrian Clayborn and backup linebacker Bryon Gattas sacked Hoyer for a 7-yard loss on third down.
Then comes this guy Drew Gardner. Walk-on, third stringer. He’s 5-foot-10, 178 pounds.
He tackled Thomas, a 6-2, 218-pounder with all-Big Ten all but written on the back of his jersey.
“I was hanging on for dear life,” Gardner said.
Hanging on for dear life. That’s what you’ll find on the backs of Iowa jerseys.